It was once assumed that Ryan Giggs would someday manage Manchester United.
As recently as September current Red Devils boss Louis van Gaal insinuated as much, telling reporters he had acquired Monaco forward Anthony Martial more for the Welshman than himself.
“I have bought him for the next manager of Manchester United,” van Gaal said with Giggs sitting alongside him. He added: “I feel I am introducing the next manager of Manchester United.”
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The thing is, with each poor performance—and there have been countless so far this season—van Gaal, himself, veers ever closer to the Old Trafford exit. And it’s not Giggs the club is prioritizing as his replacement.
According to the very reliable France Football, United officials met with Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola in Paris mid-January. His contract expiring at season’s end, the 45-year-old Spaniard has already revealed he’ll depart Bavaria in the summer—a revelation that has also excited Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Rather less credible sources in the Express, Metro and Daily Star have gone so far as to infer that Guardiola will, indeed, replace van Gaal, whose own pact with United is up in 2017. But even if their suppositions are based solely on the indulgent intake of information that forms opinion, there is sense in the notion. A lot of it, in fact.
What club, after all, could turn down the chance to hire one of football’s brightest, modern minds? A man who, in seven seasons of top-flight management, has won five titles, two Champions Leagues and three domestic cups?
To that effect, what club—what big, troubled club—could possibly spurn the advances of Jose Mourinho, he of seven titles, two Champions Leagues and seven domestic cups, never mind the owner of the biggest personality in the game?
It could well be that Manchester United exclaim, “Us!” to only one of those questions. The thing is, their long-term relationship with Giggs requires such a reply to both.
At some point—perhaps this summer, or next at the latest—the United winger-turned-coach will look to try his hand at first-team management.
No, he won’t have put in the time with the youth setup, as Guardiola did at Barcelona before his Camp Nou appointment. But like the Catalan he’ll hope an understanding of the club he joined as a teenager, of its heritage, playing philosophies and administrative corridors, will make him preferable to other candidates, such as Guardiola and Mourinho.
And, like Guardiola, who picked the brains of Johan Cruyff and Sir Bobby Robson during his playing career, he’ll no doubt draw on his tutelage under Sir Alex Ferguson as a further advantage.
Not that Giggs, who oversaw four United matches as interim player-manager following the 2014 dismissal of David Moyes, wouldn’t also bring his own qualities into the process.
Just over two years ago, as he was finishing up his coaching license at St. George’s Park, the 42-year-old disclosed his anticipated managerial approach in an interview with The Guardian.
Referring to himself as “someone who wants to learn,” the 13-time Premier League champion talked about being natural in his style, and to “not try and be somebody else.”
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There is not “right or wrong way” to manage a group of players, he said, adding that he felt it important to be as adaptable as possible. And he cited former AC Milan and Real Madrid supremo Carlo Ancelotti as an example.
“He didn’t sign Roberto Baggio because he didn’t fit into his philosophy at the time. So you have to be adaptable and maybe not be: ‘I’m going to play like this.’ You evolve, really.”
He’s not wrong. And his ethos, combined with a legendary playing career, a track record of achievement and the guidance of Ferguson, will make him the preferred applicant for one vacancy or another before long.
But it would best be at Manchester United, and it would best be soon. Because should they opt for Guardiola or Mourinho in a moment of desperation the club will risk a fissure with Giggs that will be irreversible.
That, and a continued decline that he, more than anyone else, is suited to reverse.
Jerrad Peters is a Winnipeg-based writer. Follow him on Twitter